Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Toughest Horse Trader Wore a Sunbonnet

Sally Scull learned early that frontier life demanded toughness of its women. American Indians in 19th century Texas used the tactics they knew, violence and fear, to drive out the white man stealing their land. Only young Sally and her mother Rachel were home when Indians attacked their cabin. Mother and daughter at first seemed safe behind the boarded door. Then one brave tried to lift the door from its hinges by sticking his foot in the gap beneath. With one swing of an axe, Rachel separated protruding toes from foot. As another brave tried entering through the chimney, Rachel thrust burning down pillows into the fireplace, sealing off entry with smoke and fire, the brave hastily escaping back out the top Frustrated, singed, and dismembered, the Indian braves quickly departed.

The frontier was no less harsh when Sally reached adulthood. The grit and perseverance acquired from her mother served Sally well. Surviving a succession of five husbands, Sally showed Texas that this 125 pound woman could remain independent even in a dangerous world.

Sally and third husband John Doyle began the livestock trade for which Sally is remembered. After Doyle’s death, Sally continued to trade horses and cattle across the most threatening and lawless regions of Texas. Accompanied by only three Mexican-American vaqueros and the two six-shooters on her hips, she remained fearless as she moved livestock from town to town.

Rumors persisted that Sally’s vaqueros stole the horses they sold. She did buy livestock from Indians, and it’s likely that some were indeed stolen. But no one could be certain because Sally would never allow her livestock to be inspected.

Six ranchers once blocked a trail where Sally was herding horses to market. They complained that some of theirs had gone missing, and wanted to look through her herd. Astride her horse with hands resting on both pistols, Sally quickly shot back:

“Get around those horses. You don’t cut my herds”

Sally’s steely gaze and her two revolvers convinced the ranchers their horses weren’t so important, after all. They parted to the sides of the trail, and Sally in sunbonnet and chaps drove her herd on by.

Though hardened by the harshness of the life she chose, Sally Scull found time for merriment. South Texas men enjoyed her company as she drank, played cards, and danced the fandango, delighting them till late in the night. Their women, no doubt jealous and suspicious, claimed an ulterior motive: while Sally partied with their men, they said, her vaqueros and her Indian suppliers were stealing the unprotected livestock.

Sally Scull was the product of her environment. The dangers of 19th century Texas required toughness and cunning, and this small but determined woman delivered both for over fifty years.


Lamia said...

People should read this.

Jet Beagle said...

Well, thank you, Lamia. I'm glad you enjoyed it.